In my last article I discussed how to identify gaslighting and serial liars in your life, differentiating their deceptions from the more consistent reality they deliberately distort. Since such people can materialize in the form of intimate partners, employers, coworkers or even members of your family, the relationship you have with them is often one you find difficult to end. Remaining near them can be dangerous, but - then again - so can leaving, and the choice of when and how to leave ultimately rests with yourself alone. Below I describe some strategies for holding their deranged psychological terrorism at bay. These aren’t intended to replace the courage you’ll eventually need in order to distance yourself from them, but they should help you to cope and protect your own mind while you’re still on the inside.
1. Take Notes
“If your abuser insists you are misremembering,” writes therapist Nancy Travers, “you will have your notes to refer to.” Writing down what you observe and feel as soon as you can will preserve a stable, trustworthy reality you can revisit when the gaslighting fog thickens. Of course gaslighters might steal or invade these notes when they get a chance, so you would want to find a secure or at least hidden space where you can store these notes safely. The mere act of recording what your observations and feelings are will reduce your stress, give your thoughts greater clarity, even improve the functioning of your immune system.
2. Defend Boundaries of Some Kind
Find the small rebellions that you can get away with and follow through on them. Travers suggests you give your gaslighter an ultimatum between insisting on a lie and you leaving the room. Award-winning journalist and writer Ariel Leve recounts refusing to censor a story she wrote as a child, one which her abusive mother recognized as critical of Leve’s home life. If there are secret acts of defiance you can pull off without your abuser’s knowledge, these count too. Please steer clear of illegal or unprofessional actions or actions most likely to ignite retaliatory violence. Safely targeted small rebellions are another way of asserting your reality to yourself and keeping it separate from the gaslighter’s.
3. Foster Healthy Detachment
Leve describes letting go as the hardest coping mechanism to accomplish. It means recognizing that the person who gaslights you will never respond to logic or reason, that he or she will not change. Try to consider that people doing this to you probably aren’t neurologically capable of caring - as in they can’t care, even if they had wanted to. Try to find peace in this recognition rather than despair. Just because you detach yourself from the gaslighter doesn’t mean you don’t care about that sphere of your life. Your healthy world just can’t exist alongside his.
4. Hang On to Your Support System… Or Find a Way to Build One of Your Own
“Your support network is your reality check against what your abuser wants you to believe,” writes blogger Kellie Jo Holly. Your gaslighter will likely try to isolate you from family and friends, because over time supporters might point out behaviors they find inappropriate or questionable. “Good, solid friends can be supportive,” Travers writes. “They know who you were before you were manipulated and they can help you remember what your reality truly is.” Holly adds that if notice yourself drifting away from these friends, you should reconnect immediately.”
5. Consider Professional Help
Whether you remain near your gaslighter or leave, counselors or therapists present the most potentially assured source of support you can find. Some abusers excel at aligning loved ones against you, and they often repeatedly force you to choose between your relationship with them and others close to you - which could alienate those bonds. Trained professionals you consider worthy of some trust (for trust is hard to come by with gaslighters in your life) are best positioned to discuss your experiences without judgement, remain available for you through frustrating relapses and approach insights with a delicate balance of both honesty and tact. Your abuser will likely sabotage this bond too if he suspects it might challenge his authority, but who says you have to reveal what kind of doctor it is you meet with?
Travers, Nancy. “Crazy-Making: Are You a Victim of Gaslighting?” http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/crazy-making-victim-gaslighting/
Leve, Ariel. “How to survive gaslighting: when psychological manipulation erases your reality.” https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/16/gaslighting-manipulation-reality-coping-mechanisms-trump
Holly, Kelly Jo. “Brainwashing: Learn How It’s Done So You Can Undo It.” http://verbalabusejournals.com/about-abuse/brainwashing-intelligence/brainwashing-steps/